The Death of Korean Beauty: An Introduction

Plastic Surgery


If I were to ask someone who has at least a little bit of familiarity about Korea and Korean culture to list what they know about Korea, these are the common topics that are brought up: K-pop, K-drama, Korean skincare routine, … and plastic surgery.

Plastic surgery is a very popular topic that is discussed when “Korean women” are talked about. I have heard comments as demeaning and vulgar as “I heard you need to check your Korean girlfriend’s baby photo before you get married because sometimes, she can be unrecognizable.” Of course, the prior quote passive aggressively directs to the common perception that most Korean girls go through plastic surgery.  



Based on the 2014 data, a total of 980,313 plastic surgery procedures were performed in Korea. The Korean population in 2014 was around 50.5 million and a simple calculation gives me that 20 in every 1000 people have gone through some sort of plastic surgery just that year. Compare this to the United States, which has the highest number of plastic surgery procedures performed in the world. In 2014, there were 1,677,478 procedures done in the US. However, if we consider the overall population of US, only 13 in every 1000 people going through plastic surgery each year. In fact, some reporting states that one in three Korean women have had plastic surgery between the age of 19 to 29.

 One in three Korean women had plastic surgery

between the age of 19 to 29



When it comes to statistics, it is surprising that there aren’t any formal statistics from the Korean Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons (KSPRS). While there are some crude numbers presented on the total frequency of procedures reported by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, I felt a little bit anxious to find out that there are no detailed reports on plastic surgery from the Korean medical community.

An annual report from the American Plastic Surgeons Website

An annual report from the American Plastic Surgeons Website


I was able to easily access an extremely detailed report on what type of surgery was performed, how many times per year, and the percent increase or decrease from the previous year on the American Society of Plastic Surgeon (APS)’s website. All of which were made possible with a simple google search keywords: “American Plastic Surgery Statistics”:

However, when I searched up “Korean Plastic Surgery Statistics,” both in English and Korean, it was impossible to find any formal reporting from the KSPRS never mind a detailed breakdown like APS’s annual report. I tried Naver, Daum, and various other Korean search engines, and my efforts were found futile.

The hours of research and digging through the internet for some basic statistics left me speechless by the fact that such a simple yet powerful data is either not accessible by the commoners or is nonexistent. The lack of this detailed report each year also becomes the core of the issues related to regulating side effects, illegal private practices, and the “substitute” doctor.

I decided to write a series of blogs about the current trends of plastic surgery in Korea, how it came about, the public perception, problems, and regulations.

  1. The perception of Plastic Surgery in Korea

  2. Problems

  3. History of Plastic Surgery

  4. Media exposure

  5. Societal Pressure

  6. Medical needs of facial reconstruction


Starting this series, I wanted to highlight some of the topics related to plastic surgery and standards of beauty in Korea, and I hope to provide new insights and help reshape some of the stereotypes of Korea and Korean Beauty.



The death of Korean beauty

Part I: An Introduction